Energy Brief: Coal Mining Deaths in U.S. Doubled Last Year After Record Low in 2016

Government Brief

  • The Bureau of Land Management revised an Obama-era policy on prioritizing oil and natural gas leasing and drilling projects with regard to greater sage grouse habitats by stating that BLM could consider “leasing and development” within the grouse habitat management areas without leasing and developing outside of those areas. The instruction memorandum, which was issued last week and took effect immediately, is seen as advancing the Trump administration’s goal of increasing fossil fuel development on federal lands. (E&E News)
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) announced he won’t run for re-election, and will instead focus on working with President Donald Trump to pass what he called a “much-needed infrastructure bill.” The administration expects to release details on its proposed infrastructure package in the next few weeks, and Shuster is positioned to play a major role in shepherding forthcoming legislation through the House. (The Associated Press)
  • China suspended the production of more than 500 car models and model versions not meeting its fuel economy standards. The move affects both domestic automakers and foreign joint ventures and signals the country’s commitment to battling climate change. (The New York Times)

Business Brief

  • Coal mining deaths in the United States last year rose to 15, the highest level in three years, after a record low of eight in 2016, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The majority of the 2017 workplace deaths were in West Virginia. (The Hill)
  • The United States burned a record amount of natural gas on Monday, breaking a 2014 record by consuming 143 billion cubic feet of gas. Prices for the heating fuel rose to the highest levels in a month as temperatures dipped to all-time lows on New Year’s Day. (Bloomberg)
  • Dominion Energy offered to buy the troubled utility SCANA Corp. for $14.6 billion, including partial refunds and rate cuts to the customers of SCANA subsidiary S.C. Electric & Gas for its failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant project. SCANA tentatively agreed to the sale, which hinges on keeping customer payments for two unfinished nuclear reactors that cost $9 billion. (The Post and Courier)

Chart Review

Energy commodity prices increased in the second half of 2017
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

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2017 Brands in Review

Last year, Morning Consult conducted nearly 1 million survey interviews on nearly 1,000 brands. Get a never-before-seen look at how public perception changed for the world’s biggest brands.


China, Moving to Cut Emissions, Halts Production of 500 Car Models
Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times

China is suspending the production of more than 500 car models and model versions that do not meet its fuel economy standards, several automakers confirmed Tuesday, the latest move by Beijing to reduce emissions in the world’s largest auto market and take the lead in battling climate change. The government-affiliated China Vehicle Technology Service Center said that the suspension, effective Jan. 1, would affect both domestic carmakers and foreign joint ventures.

Car Sales to Top 90 Million Globally for First Time
John D. Stoll and Adrienne Roberts, The Wall Street Journal

The auto industry’s growth poses challenges for regulators already struggling to make increasingly congested roads safer and cleaner. Even as car companies and tech giants say autonomous cars, electric vehicles and sharing services are a way to reduce emissions and traffic deaths, governments around the world are trying to spark demand for electric cars.

Cruz taps Texas mistrust of ethanol
James Osborne, Houston Chronicle

Oil states like Texas hate it. And politicians who try to take on ethanol often get buried in the issue’s complexities.

Oil dips away from mid-2015 highs as higher output looms
Henning Gloystein and Oleg Vukmanovic, Reuters

Oil prices held steady on Wednesday near mid-2015 highs reached the previous session as high output in the United States and Russia balanced tensions from a sixth day of unrest in OPEC member Iran. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $60.50 a barrel at 1017 GMT, up 13 cents from their last close, though still not far off the $60.74 reached on the previous day that was the highest since June 2015.

Oil and Natural Gas

BLM no longer aiming to prevent drilling in key habitat
Scott Streater, E&E News

The Bureau of Land Management has revised an Obama-era policy directing agency field offices to prioritize oil and natural gas leasing and drilling projects outside of the most sensitive greater sage grouse habitat. The instruction memorandum (IM), issued last week to little fanfare, states that BLM “does not need to lease and develop outside of [grouse] habitat management areas before considering any leasing and development within [grouse] habitat.”

The U.S. Just Burned the Most Natural Gas Ever

The U.S. burned the most natural gas ever on Monday, breaking a record set during the so-called polar vortex that blanketed the nation’s eastern half with arctic air in 2014. America consumed 143 billion cubic feet of gas as temperatures dipped to all-time lows on New Year’s Day, topping the previous high of 142 billion from four years ago, data from PointLogic Energy show.

China set to top Japan as world’s biggest natural gas importer
Henning Gloystein, Reuters

Beijing’s crackdown on pollution has put China on track to overtake Japan this year as the world’s biggest importer of natural gas, used to replace dirtier coal. China – already the biggest importer of oil and coal – is the world’s third biggest user of natural gas behind the United States and Russia, but has to import around 40 percent of its total needs as domestic production can’t keep up with demand.

Oil could hit $80 per barrel by the end of 2018, says portfolio manager
Yen Nee Lee, CNBC

This year could mark a comeback for commodities, with oil potentially hitting $80 per barrel, a portfolio manager said on Wednesday. Restrained production among major oil producers and the “greater impetus” to maintain stability ahead of the widely-anticipated initial public offering of Saudi Aramco will support prices further this year, said Yoon Chou Chong, head of Asian equities at Natixis Asset Management.

Utilities and Infrastructure

Dominion offers to buy SCANA in wake of S.C. nuclear plant failure
Andy Shain and Thad Moore, The Post and Courier

Troubled Cayce-based utility SCANA Corp. tentatively agreed to a $14.6 billion sale to Virginia’s Dominion Energy on Wednesday that includes partial refunds and rate cuts to S.C. Electric & Gas customers for the failed nuclear plant project in Fairfield County. The average SCE&G customer would receive a $1,000 refund and save $7 a month on their bills if the deal wins approval from company shareholders as well as state and federal regulators, Dominion says.

GOP Rep. Shuster, transportation panel chair, to retire
Andrew Taylor and Joan Lowy, The Associated Press

Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, the powerful Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced Tuesday that he won’t run for re-election. Shuster said he wants to focus his time and energy on working with President Donald Trump on legislation to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

TVA breaks energy demand records amid Artic blast, shares tips to reduce utilities costs
Brittany Crocker, Knoxville News Sentinel

As a blast of Arctic air lowers temperatures across the state, homeowners are cranking up their thermostats, raising their monthly utility bills, and increasing regional energy demand. The Tennessee Valley Authority said it kicked off 2018 with a new peak demand record for the holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.


As Trump Weighs New Tariffs, Imports of Washers, Solar Panels Jump
Andrew Tangel, The Wall Street Journal

Foreign makers of products including washing machines and solar panels are ramping up shipments to the U.S. ahead of government decisions on whether to erect new barriers, trade data show. The influx of goods comes after companies including appliance giant Whirlpool Corp. and solar-panel maker Suniva Inc. asked the Trump administration in recent months to use powers under a controversial trade law that gives the president wide discretion on tariffs and quotas.

The Dutch plan to build an artificial island to support the world’s largest wind farm
Akshat Rathi, Quartz

Wind farms need a lot of space—not something the world has much to spare. TenneT, the operator of the Netherlands’ electric grid, has come up with an ambitious plan to build an artificial island in the middle of the North Sea that on completion would support the world’s largest wind farm.


Coal mining deaths more than double in 2017
Timothy Cama, The Hill

Workplace deaths in the coal mining industry increased last year to their highest point in three years. A total of 15 miners died on the job in 2017, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) data show, compared with eight in 2016.

New Mexico utility grapples with costs of closing coal plant
Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press

New Mexico’s largest electric provider plans to get out of the coal business sooner rather than later and is proposing legislation that could ease the sting of closing a coal-fired power plant that has served customers around the Southwest for decades. Public Service Co. of New Mexico wants legislative approval for a mechanism that would address how the utility recovers hundreds of millions of dollars in stranded costs that will result from closing the San Juan Generating Station earlier than planned.


Hedge-fund investors will turn a $171 million profit from S.C.’s nuclear settlement — with a catch
Thad Moore, The Post and Courier

It only took a few months for a group of hedge-fund investors to turn a nine-figure profit from South Carolina’s failed nuclear power plant. The immediate winner is a group of investors gathered by New York-based Citibank: Shortly after the nuclear project failed this summer, Santee Cooper and its partner, SCANA Corp., sold the bank the rights to collect $2.2 billion from the company responsible for building the power plant.

Energy Department to permanently close damaged Hanford tank
The Associated Press

The Energy Department says it will permanently close a damaged radioactive waste storage tank on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The department says that Tank AY-102 has widespread damage and should not be repaired.


Why companies like Exxon are being more open about risks posed by climate change
Jeff Mosier, The Dallas Morning News

Exxon Mobil finally agreed in December to disclose the risks climate change posed to its business after losing a landmark shareholder vote in the spring. But a growing number of companies are embracing this kind of disclosure without the threat of a messy proxy fight.

Researchers can now blame warming for individual disasters
Chelsea Harvey, E&E News

As floodwaters from the swollen River Thames crept closer to the walls of Myles Allen’s south Oxford home in the United Kingdom, he was thinking about climate change — and if scientists could figure out if it was affecting the climbing water outside. Nearly 15 years later, extreme event attribution not only is possible, but is one of the most rapidly expanding subfields of climate science.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Iran and the oil price
Nick Butler, Financial Times

What does the spread of street protests across Iran mean for the oil market? The immediate response, driven no doubt by the substantial amounts of speculative money that are in play, is likely to be an upward spike.

Solar’s Bright Future Is Further Away Than It Seems
Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg

There is now a doctrine of what I call “solar triumphalism”: the price of panels has been falling exponentially, the technology makes good practical sense, and only a few further nudges are needed for solar to become a major energy source. Solar energy could be a boon to mankind and the environment, but it’s going to need a lot more support and entrepreneurial and policy dynamism.

Forecast is partly political for global warming critics
Jerry Davich, Chicago Tribune

As soon as the weather plummeted to bitterly cold temperatures, I knew it was only a matter of time before I began hearing the same sarcastic remarks. Other readers immediately jumped on the bandwagon of global warming critics or doubters.

As an EPA intern, I was barred from mentioning climate change
Katie Miller, The Washington Post

In many ways, the Environmental Protection Agency was exactly what I expected when I arrived as a summer intern in June: cubicles decorated with pictures of polar bears, employees who made actual small talk about the environment, acronyms for everything. But there were clues that this was an agency under siege in the Trump administration, and before my time there had ended, I saw them firsthand.

Research Reports

Keeping global warming within 1.5 °C constrains emergence of aridification
Chang-Eui Park et al., Nature Climage Change

Climate aridity is a useful concept for determining the back-ground dryness or wetness of the land surface for given climate conditions, and is usually defined by the aridity index, which is the ratio of P to PET (P/PET). Decreases in aridity index over large regions are an indication that the climate is get-ting drier, that is, undergoing aridification: the expansion of the world’s dryland area then increases the risks of land degradation, desertification and decreases terrestrial carbon sequestration.

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